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The Republic by Plato - Barron's Booknotes
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ORIGINS AND NEEDS OF THE STATE (367e-374d)

From here on, Socrates does most of the talking. He praises Glaucon and Adeimantus for their fine elaborations on Thrasymachus' arguments and then agrees to defend justice, as best he can, against Thrasymachus' vicious attack.

Socrates begins with a warning: "The inquiry we are undertaking is no easy one but calls for keen vision." The inquiry is, in fact, no less of a task than looking into the very nature of the soul, of human character. As Socrates says, to see justice in the soul takes keener vision than most people possess. Somehow justice must be enlarged. Socrates brings in his conceptual microscope and enlarges justice in the soul by describing justice in the state, in a community of souls. After justice is visible in the state, it can be illuminated in the souls of individuals.

NOTE: Since the time of the Imperial Romans (Plato's first editors) readers of The Republic have often asked if this dialogue deals primarily with politics and the constitution of the state or with psychology and the moral character of the soul. The answer is that it deals with both. For the ancient Greeks no clear difference existed between politics (from polis, meaning "city" or "city-state") and psychology (from psyche, meaning "soul"). The Greeks viewed man as a social animal; for them the study of man is inextricably intertwined with the study of the community, of which man is a part. In other words, the psychological constitution of the individual and the political constitution of a state are mutually interdependent.

With Adeimantus' help Socrates constructs the first city. His construction is not an historical account of how societies originated; rather, it is an analysis of the parts of society that correspond to the basic needs of human life-at least, in the beginning. Socrates says: We will create a city, but its real creator will be our needs.



In this city people join together because no one alone can provide all of the necessities for civilized living-food, housing, clothing, shoes-and, at the same time produce quality items. The work is distributed so that "one man performs one task according to his nature, at the right moment, and at leisure from other occupations."

The city grows. Farmers cannot be expected to make their own plows, so blacksmiths come into being. Weavers cannot be expected to produce their own wool, so shepherds come to be. And so on. Before long the city needs items it cannot produce itself. Trade with other cities becomes necessary. Some people become sailors, others become merchants. And yet other people, those who are not intelligent but who are physically strong, become laborers, "wage earners."

In this city of bare necessities each profession possesses its own integrity. Yet Socrates wants to know where justice is to be found. Adeimantus suggests that justice resides in the harmonious cooperation of the different types of workers. Before this possibility can be explored, Glaucon interrupts. He accuses Socrates of having created a city of pigs.

Glaucon is not happy with Socrates' and Adeimantus' simple city. He protests that it lacks the luxuries of life-couches to recline on, incense to smell, gold and ivory to adorn the rooms, exotic food to eat. Does Glaucon introduce luxuries because he is fond of the prosperous, flourishing life of Athens? Or does he feel that Socrates has ignored the very real problem of human appetites and passions?

Socrates describes Glaucon's luxurious city as "inflamed," not healthy. If there has to be a city of luxury, then the simple city must grow in its appetites.

The irony is that the city Glaucon calls the city of pigs is not a "piggish" place. The appetites of the citizens are in harmony with the necessities of life and do not create demands for superfluous things that can result in greedy ambition and competition. The city of pigs is, in fact, the healthy city in which each person performs his task and, in return, receives what he needs.

Nevertheless, Socrates allows luxuries to be introduced into the city. He now adds riches and "culture"- poets and actors, chefs and beauticians. This inflamed city is, in effect, Athens. Like Athens, it must go to war to acquire new territory to satisfy the vast appetites of its people. War becomes a necessity. The city needs an army.

NOTE: Once war is introduced, Socrates never again speaks of the healthy city. Why not? Perhaps the reason is that there can be no such thing as a healthy city. More likely it is because there is no lack of justice in the healthy city. The city of pigs was contented, harmonious, inherently just; the inflamed city- the city of warriors-is harsh, competitive, and in great need of justice.

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